In the end, it was a mix of mama and a day spent with the legendary Alice Waters in his hometown of Mansura, Louisana this spring that led Joe Truex to Decatur’s Watershed restaurant.
This week, Truex, who co-opened and who has co-owned and co-cooked with wife Mihoko Obunai at Repast for the past four years, announced he was becoming the chef and a partner at Watershed.
This spring, a trip to honor his late mother and divide up family belongings at the Truex homestead in Mansura (the AJC’s John Kessler reported on the trip), coupled with a visit to his hometown by Waters, who was in town to taste and to visit the edible schoolyard planted by local children, got Truex thinking about the future.
“Going back to that little town in Louisiana and dismantling my family home really made me think about where my home is now,” Truex tells Dish. “My family and I live in Decatur. When I was younger, it was all about getting out of the South. But this is who I am.”
Truex has a tough act to follow at Watershed. He replaces chef Scott Peacock, whose recipes became so iconic, a cookbook filled with them, “The Gift of Southern Cooking,” co-written with late mentor Edna Lewis, won a James Beard Award.
Explains Truex: “Watershed was farm-to-table before farm-to-table was cool. But over the last few years, Watershed has fallen out of that conversation a little bit. I want to help get us back into that conversation.”
While Watershed’s signatures, including the Tuesday Fried Chicken Night and its famed pimento cheese will remain, Truex says he wants to concentrate on the restaurant’s original ingredient-driven mission.
“They’re giving me cart blanche here but I’m not going to shake things up just for the sake of it. I’m not going to change anything that affects the fabric of Watershed. But we’re going to do some spring cleaning.”
In addition to daily specials, Truex is going to initially focus on freshening up Watershed’s wine list.
Obunai, meanwhile, will be concentrating on smaller plates and her expertise in Japanese cuisine to create more of a neighborhood hang and less of a pricey destination restaurant vibe at Repast.
The four-year-old restaurant’s success is a minor miracle, given its ever-eccentric, ever-transitioning North Avenue neighborhood that resembled Beirut when the couple first scouted the location.
“Actually, I think Beirut would have been a step up,” cracks Truex. “I’m excited that Mihoko has this opportunity. She needs a bigger stage to perform on. She’s a lot more talented than I am. Marriage can be a very unnatural thing. And then to work together on top of that for four years? The change is going to be refreshing for us. But I’m still going be married to the owner. When the plumbing breaks at 2AM, I’m still going to hear about it, believe me!”